New Report on Smallsat Launch Delays from Bryce

We often get asked by our customers what they can expect as far as a “typical launch delay” and how to best plan for it. With all the new vehicles, smaller spacecraft, and overall complexities of rideshare, we know all too well that delays can be extremely disruptive — and costly — to businesses. While we can quantify our previous launch experience, we thought it would be helpful for our customers (and their extended community) to see a larger industry view.

Earlier this year, Spaceflight commissioned an independent study by industry research firm Bryce Space and Technology Inc. We asked them to take an indepth look at launch delays and provide quantifiable data across all commercial launches for the last five years. How often do delays occur? What are the causes? How long do they typically last? All these questions are critical in understanding the “real world” of launch and can help smallsat developers prepare more effectively. 

Bryce discovered there are many reasons why launches are delayed, ranging from anomalies with the launch vehicle, slips with prior launches, the readiness of the primary payload, and weather. They also found that delays ranged from minor (less than two weeks to a month) to significant (eight months to more than two years), but the median delay was 128 days.

See below for a few data points that Bryce’s research revealed.

For the full report and methodology, go here to download — it’s free. 

Bryce discovered there are many reasons why launches are delayed, ranging from anomalies with the launch vehicle, slips with prior launches, the readiness of the primary payload, and weather. They also found that delays ranged from minor (less than two weeks to a month) to significant (eight months to more than two years), but the median delay was 128 days. 

The findings might not be shocking for those who have experienced multiple launches, but might be surprising to first-time flyers. This report reflects what we know to be true. We wanted all our smallsat customers to have a better understanding of this issue in order to mitigate impacts and financial ramifications caused by delays — especially when you consider most of the reasons cited in the study are out of their control. 

Specifically, what can smallsat developers expect when delays occur?

  • Programmatic delays. What do you do with a team waiting on a demo flight? How do you keep an engineering team focused and available without causing further delays on the satellite development? Is it possible to move forward without demo data? How?
  • Revenue delays. Would it be beneficial to take more risk by switching to a less proven vehicle that might launch earlier? Is it possible that a different company’s delayed vehicle has capacity that you could move to? Can you do that if you’ve purchased a launch directly with an LV or should you use a service provider for flexibility in these cases?
  • Investor concerns. How do you best educate investors that might not be from the space industry or savvy to these findings? This report may be a good starting point to having the discussion. 

We help our customers prepare for all of these by building flexibility in their launch plans from day one. This can include everything from ensuring key personnel are available, having access to earlier/later launches, licensing clearances secured, and alternative financial sources identified — just in case. Additionally, we encourage them to secure a launch sooner rather than later in order to have a longer timeline to get their satellite on orbit. Having more options to consider can be critical in improving your odds of launching on your timeline. 

We know from our experience launching nearly 300 smallsats over the years that delays are part of the game. It’s one of the reasons why booking rideshare launches with Spaceflight makes sense for so many smallsat developers — we have the integration experience, flexible processes, logistics expertise, and long-standing relationships with many LVs to help you manage any delays that may occur. 

Many Spaceflight customers have taken advantage of the flexibility we provide, de-manifesting from one launch vehicle (for example in the case of a previous launch vehicle failure) and re-manifesting on another that is headed to orbit on a better schedule. Getting stuck in a holding pattern waiting to launch with a specific launch vehicle is not good for anyone. 

Delays happen for many reasons, it’s part of the complexity we’re all navigating in the launch industry. The best mitigation is booking a ride with Spaceflight.

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